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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, June 26, 2009
Justice Department Files Complaint and Reaches Settlement to Improve Conditions at Texas State Facilities for Persons with Developmental Disabilities

WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today a simultaneous lawsuit and settlement with the state of Texas concerning the care given to residents of the state’s 13 facilities for persons with developmental disabilities. Along with the settlement agreement, the Department will file a complaint initiating a lawsuit against the state in federal court. An independent monitor will be appointed to oversee the state’s compliance with the settlement agreement and the court will retain ultimate jurisdiction.

The facilities are state-owned and operated residential facilities that serve nearly 5,000 persons with developmental disabilities. The agreement, which will be subject to the approval of the U.S. District Court in Austin, Texas, addresses concerns about conditions and practices at the facilities, which led the Department to investigate potential violations of the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act (CRIPA).

"The Justice Department is committed to protecting the fundamental rights of all our citizens. This agreement reflects that principle by protecting the civil rights of some of Texas’s most vulnerable residents," said Attorney General Eric Holder.

The state of Texas fully cooperated with the Justice Department’s investigation. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the state will work to ensure that facility residents are safe and that they receive the care and services necessary to meet their individualized needs. Specifically, the state has agreed to undertake a variety of measures, including: providing a safe and humane environment with zero tolerance for abuse or neglect of residents; providing adequate medical care, nursing services, and nutritional and physical support, including therapy and communication support; providing adequate psychological and behavioral services and psychiatric care; providing adequate habilitation; providing adequate integrated protections, services, treatments, and supports; and, ensuring that residents are free from undue bodily restraint. The state will also ensure that each resident is served in a setting that is as well integrated into the community as possible, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999).

Under the terms of the agreement, Texas will fund and work with an independent monitor, who will oversee the state’s compliance with the agreement. The agreement contemplates that the state will reach compliance within five years, but it will continue until compliance is achieved.

"We commend the state for working with the Department to ensure that persons living in these institutions receive the protection, care, and services that they need and deserve, and that they have expanded opportunities to live their lives in more community-integrated settings, consistent with federal law," said Loretta King, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

The remedial agreement represents a negotiated resolution of the Justice Department’s investigation that would not have been possible without the cooperation and commitment of the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Legislature.

The agreement comes near the tenth anniversary of the Olmstead decision, which held that unjustified institutional isolation of individuals with disabilities is a form of unlawful discrimination under the Americans With Disabilities Act. As part of the commemoration of this anniversary, President Obama launched the "Year of Community Living," a new effort aimed at providing opportunities for community living, and for full inclusion in the life of our nation, to individuals with disabilities. The Justice Department also is strengthening its partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure vigorous enforcement of the laws that protect the civil rights of individuals with disabilities.

CRIPA authorizes the Attorney General to investigate conditions in certain institutions owned or operated by, or on behalf of, state or local governments. These institutions include nursing homes, residential facilities serving persons with developmental disabilities, mental health facilities, jails, prisons, and juvenile correction facilities. CRIPA’s focus is on systemic deficiencies rather than individual, isolated problems.

More information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, and the laws it enforces, is available at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt.

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